The simple life

We have great lives in New York, but Code Orange is making us yearn for the suburban calm we left behind.


Cary Tennis
February 19, 2003 1:11AM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

Our problem is not one of romance or relationships; in that we are especially lucky. I'm afraid our dilemma is a bit more philosophical and the answer maybe not so clear.

My husband and I work in a glamorous industry in New York. We've both been successful, promoted often, and at only 28 have built growing careers for ourselves. We love our professions and are happy to be working at what we do.

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So what is the issue? We want to move. We miss the suburban, small-city lives we left behind after college. We're tired, we want to have a car, we want to go home at 5:30, we want to drive to the grocery store. We want a house in a nice neighborhood. We don't want to worry about Code Orange anymore.

So why not just pick up and go? We have great jobs that we can't replicate in a smaller city. We are terrified at the idea of spending the rest of our lives working at the local bank or sales office. We can't imagine going without good sushi.

Are we being snobs to think that as New Yorkers we are so superior to people in smaller cities? Would we be giving up on great careers for a safer and easier life? Is that OK? Please don't tell us to move to the burbs here -- we can't afford the housing prices and the commute is deadly.

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Adrift Together

Dear Adrift,

My wife and I, who live in San Francisco, struggle with these same questions. I personally think to find the solution you must first distinguish between these essential things you long for -- safety and ease, convenience and security -- and their manifestations as you remember them or conjure them up: a small suburban town, a car, a drive to the supermarket. If you give up your lives in the city to live in a small town because you think that safety and ease reside in a certain town or a certain automobile, you will be sadly disappointed. What you need to do is concentrate on these essential abstract values and try to find their manifestations in the city, in your jobs, in your relationship as it exists.

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Keep in mind that you are not alone, that your experience of exhilaration mixed with exhaustion is a classic urban syndrome that many city institutions were created to fix: Clubs, libraries, artistic institutions, music halls, restaurants and bars, gymnasiums, saunas, parks -- all these urban inventions respond to specific human needs that are so difficult to meet in a city -- the need for safety and ease, for community and security, for a moment's relaxation and rest, for rejuvenation of the mind and body. It's also why God made the Adirondacks -- for New Yorkers in August.

It's hard to live in a city like New York without much money, and it's hard if you weren't brought up in a city. You must consciously work to build a life that takes advantage of the many urban comforts. You need them. They are not a luxury. They are a necessity.

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Along with desiring a safer and easier life, which is attainable, you may also be suffering from nostalgia -- a longing for something that is not attainable. When suffering bouts of nostalgia, it is helpful to break it down and see if within that vague and overpowering desire for an unattainable past there is some concrete element that is attainable in the here and now. For instance, I grew up on a subtropical tidal river, and my nostalgic feelings are filled with the smells and sights of the river, the cool, fresh, soft air, the languor of barge traffic, the mystery of the tides. That life is gone, as is the boy. But I still like to be by the water. So though I live in San Francisco, I live near the water and I get part of what I want. I walk along the water and feel the resonant tension between memory and existence. It's a tension you can almost pluck like a violin string; it's the bright pizzicato between living and dead, future and past, village and city, sushi and oatmeal.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.

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Cary Tennis

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